Unearthing the secrets of 25 houseplants

In this blog we ask Jane Perrone all about her fascinating new book Legends Of The Leaf.

Jane Perrone is a horticultural expert, writer, host of the brilliant On The Ledge podcast all about indoor gardening. Her beautifully illustrated book unlocks the secrets to helping houseplants thrive by exploring how they grow in the wild, and the ways they are understood and used by the people who live among them. Interesting hidden histories to 25 of the most iconic houseplants are revealed as well as in-dpeth care guides for each are included within this brand new book.

front cover image of Legends Of The Leaf book
We love that your book is not only packed with plant care tips, but it also delves into the lesser-known facts about iconic houseplants. Where did the idea for the book come from?

I collect houseplant books, so I have a fair idea of what's already out there - but I always felt that houseplants weren't really being written about in a rounded way, beyond useful but workaday advice about light and watering. So with this book I wanted to tell a narrative that hasn't been offered in full: the backstories of 25 iconic houseplants. We may know and love them, but we don't really know much about where they come from, how they grow in the wild, how they are used by indigenous people, and how they found their way into our homes.

How did you choose which 25 plants to feature in your book?

I chose 25 iconic species. What does iconic mean? That these plants should be instantly recognisable to a large number of people across the globe. I tried to include a good range from the different houseplant types, such as ferns, cacti, carnivorous plants, and aroids. Apologies if your favourite is not included, but it's always going to be a subjective list.

illustration of a begonia maculata
What is your favourite fact that you uncovered whilst writing the book?

String of pearls, Curio rowleyanus, may seem as if it's been around forever as a houseplant, but it was only introduced to the UK in the 1950s and isn't found much in the wild in its home in South Africa. Its origins remain rather unclear as we don't know who first collected it from the wild. It's astonishing that this is the case for a plant that is now sold by the millions.

You are a horticultural expert, with years of plant care experience, despite your wealth of knowledge, was there anything you found out about a certain plant that particularly surprised you?

Certainly! I was fascinated to discover that venus fly traps do not actually eat that many flies in their native habitats: their main diet is crawling creatures such as beetles and spiders. The traps can also catch underwater prey when the plant is submerged in a flood. However they are very adaptable and will be happy on a diet of flies when grown as a potted plant.

We know how important it is to look to a plant’s natural habitat to inform its care in our homes. Have you changed any of your plant care routines following research for your book?

Writing Legends of the Leaf increased my respect for all plants. Many of the species in the book have practical uses: from the Sansevieria's history as a natural fibre to the leaves of the strawberry saxifrage (Saxifraga stolonifera) being used as part of the Japanese tradition of sansai, or mountain vegetables (they eat them as tempura). I haven't changed any of my plant care routines, but I do take a lot of care when deciding to bring a plant into my home. I really dislike the saying "you can't have too many plants" - you absolutely can. The right number for you and your home could be five or 500, and it may change over time according to your circumstances, but every plant should be a mindful purchase.

Do you have an all-time favourite plant? Or a particular plant within your collection that holds more sentimental value to you than others?

That's like picking a favourite child! But I would say my Hoya carnosa 'Krimson Queen' is very dear to my heart. It is one of my oldest plants: I absolutely love Hoyas and this is one of the most stalwart of the genus, with beautiful foliage and flowers. I also love my huge Hoya linearis, grown from a few cuttings given to me by James Wong when I interviewed him for my podcast On The Ledge back in 2018.

Do you have plans for another book?

My son has suggested I write a sequel called Secrets of the Stem, profiling another 25 houseplants, but for the moment I am focused on enjoying this one

illustration of a monstera deliciosa
Thank you to Jane for letting us in delve into the background of Legends Of The Leaf, and we hope we have encouraged you to purchase a copy of Jane's book, which is available to order here.